In the words of my good friend Frosty the Snowman, “Happy Birthday!.” That’s right, it’s Christmas Day, and that means some of the NBA’s best teams and biggest stars get a signature showcase. Sure, they’ll be competing with “A Christmas Story,” midday naps, and even the NFL, but today is truly the NBA’s time to shine.
The slate this year features a couple of signature games between the top teams in the East (Bucks vs. Celtics) and the West (Suns vs. Nuggets). In between, you get Joel Embiid, Luka Doncic, LeBron James and Ja Morant.
We’ll break it all down for you game by game so you can plan your day accordingly.
When: 12 p.m. ET
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
Odds: Knicks +2.5, per DraftKings
James Harden vs. Jalen Brunson
The New York Knicks are really starting to feel themselves. They are jelling as a team, recommitting to defense, and letting the offense run through the trio of RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson. But it’s the last player I am most interested in. Brunson is delivering as advertised in New York after signing a big, somewhat controversial, long-term deal. He’s averaging 20.4 points per game, leading the team in assists and taking and making tough shots.
Harden, meanwhile, is averaging fewer shots in Philly than he has taken since he was still a reserve in Oklahoma City. The elite Harden era is probably over, but he’s still a dangerous scorer, he’s still efficient, and he could raise his game in a battle with Brunson.
When: 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas
Odds: Lakers +8, per DraftKings
Lebron vs. Luka
The loss of Anthony Davis for the Lakers really takes a bit of the buzz off of this game. However, it still feels like because it’s Christmas, either LeBron or Luka is going to go for 40 points. Heck, maybe both of them.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Boston Celtics
When: 5 p.m. ET
Where: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Odds: Bucks +6.5, per DraftKings
Both Teams vs. Expectations
A few weeks ago, both these teams seemed destined for a true matchup in the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, well, it could still happen, but both teams look decidedly more mortal lately. The Bucks are a mess away from home, and the Celtics have struggled lately, including losses against the Magic and Pacers. These teams are shrinking under some intense scrutiny, and both want to prove they are legit. Well, today is an excellent opportunity to show doubters and show themselves what they are made of.
When: 8 p.m. ET
Where: Chase Center, San Francisco, California
Odds: Warriors +6.5, per DraftKings
Grizzlies vs. Ghosts of Warriors past
Ja Morant talks a big game, but he also has a big game. Now, the Grizz get to make their Christmas Day debut, and they will be looking to get revenge on a team that eliminated them in last season’s playoffs. This Warriors team, to be clear, is not last year’s Warriors team. The bench is weak and Steph is gone. The whole team seems a bit aimless, even by defending champion standards. Morant recently said there is no true competitor to the Grizzlies in the West. Can he deliver on that promise on national TV?
When: 10:30 p.m. ET
Where: Ball Arena, Denver, Colorado
Odds: Suns +3.5, per DraftKings
Nikola Jokic vs. MVP fatigue
The Suns are a dangerous team, but Devin Booker is likely to miss this one as he attempts to nurse himself back from a problematic hamstring. That means Nikola Jokic, the back-to-back MVP, is the biggest star playing in this one. Most people discounted the chance of Jokic winning another MVP because nobody ever really wins three in a row. But Jokic continues to be an amazing, impactful offensive player. He has the Nuggets winning in a wide-open West, and the conversation must be had — can he do it again?